Our Annual Student-Led Conferences are One of the Many Things that make Ridge & Valley Charter School Unique
Student-led conferences are meetings with students, parents, and teachers (called “guides” at RVCS) during which a student shares work and discusses his/her progress. The intention is for the student to lead the meeting from start to finish. Student involvement in a conference makes learning active, provides opportunities for students to evaluate their own performance, and encourages students to take responsibility for their learning. Having students take charge of the conference makes them more accountable for what they are learning.
Prior to conferences, the students, with guide support, collect work that reflects what they have learned. Students then evaluate their work and, as they conduct their conference, explain skills they have learned and share goals they have set for themselves. While a guide may serve as the conference facilitator, the student will lead the conference.
Student-led conferences offer the opportunity for students to play an important part in their own educational process. This approach fits beautifully with the holistic, student-centered focus of our mission that recognizes children are capable and responsible.
The Student-Led Conference Format Offers Many Benefits to Students, Including:
- Having greater accountability for their learning
- Learning to think about and evaluate their own progress
- Gaining a greater commitment to school work and learning
- Building self-confidence and self-esteem
- Encouraging student/parent communication
- Building communication and critical thinking skills
- Placing greater responsibility on the student
- Allowing students to become more actively involved
Families Benefit from this Format as Well as it:
- Helps families learn more about their child’s learning and skills
- Offers an opportunity for families to help their child set positive goals
- Encourages active family participation in their child’s learning
Conferences are a wonderful opportunity for families to see, hear and experience their child’s learning and progress. To learn more about our holistic assessment practices visit our website.
From a young age students at Ridge and Valley Charter School develop a love of reading. There is a strong focus on becoming confident readers and writers. In a recent unit kindergarten students have been excited to use their reading “super powers” to help develop their reading skills.
Ridge & Valley’s Reading and Writing Model Inspired by Columbia University
At Ridge and Valley Charter School, a Reading and Writing Workshop model inspired by Columbia University‘s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project is used. There is a focus on developing students’ reading, writing and speaking skills within their own areas of interest. Doing so in the context of real and practical applications of those skills allows the learner to see the difference that their efforts can make. Instruction is embedded in content, topics and books chosen by the students and is differentiated based on their abilities. This model helps Ridge and Valley Charter School students develop a deep rooted strength in reading and writing that serves them well in high school and beyond.
Ridge and Valley Charter School graduate Lara Watrous has been awarded the highest Girl Scout honor, the “Gold Award.” As a Gold Award recipient, Lara is part of an elite group of women. Only 5-6% of all Girl Scouts earn this award which requires completion of an ambitious service project aimed at improving their communities–and the world. Lara’s passion for horses inspired her to embark on a project aimed at raising awareness for a therapeutic horse riding facility called Riding with HEART (RwH) in Alexandria, NJ. To learn more about Lara’s impressive accomplishments and Gold Award recognition check out this article:
Ridge and Valley Charter School students participate in a number of garden projects throughout each year. They save seeds for planting, tend to various gardens and orchard, and ultimately harvest a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. This past season they harvested a bountiful tomato crop. Sixteen quarts of tomatoes were harvested, blanched, peeled, and frozen this fall by students. As they studied food systems, the students explored ways to share their abundant harvest and make an impact on the food system in our area. While furthering their learning of food systems, these middle school students reached out to help the food insecure in our area.
Making Local Connections
During their quest to donate the organic food grown in their garden and volunteer at a local soup kitchen, the students connected with a local Blairstown establishment, Buck Hill Brewery and Restaurant, to prepare food for donation in the restaurant’s board certified commercial kitchen. A date was set, and delicious tomato soup was made with guidance from Buck Hill’s head chef. Chef Brett shared his expertise and tricks of the trade with the students. The organic and locally grown tomato soup was shared with Manna House in Newton. Many of the students also participated in serving the meal, as well.
Ridge and Valley Experiences Provide Students with a Sense of Purpose
This experience added a sense of authentic purpose to the students’ work, as well as enhanced their experience learning to grow food and study of systems. Ridge and Valley Charter School is grateful to Buck Hill Brewery and Restaurant and Manna House for their willingness to partner with our students in their efforts to make a difference.
Ridge and Valley Charter School graduate, Calvin Carroll, is making a splash in the world of stock car racing. At just 16 years old, racing has always been his passion. As a student at Ridge and Valley Charter School he apprenticed with an auto mechanic shop during “Independent Study” time. Independent Study at RVCS is a dedicated time when students are involved in the process of identifying personal interests, setting goals, finding resources, planning and following through on projects, documenting their process and self-reflecting and sharing outcomes. This independent study opportunity for students comes from RVCS’ fundamental belief that all children are intrinsically motivated learners and are ultimately capable of directing their own learning.
This could not be more true for Calvin whose hard work, passion and dedication are certainly paying off. He recently competed at Daytona International Speedway during two days of the ARCA Racing Series. He also plans to run for Rookie of the Year honors with the NASCAR Whelen Modified tour. To learn more about Calvin’s racing career and his great showing at Daytona recently check out this article in Race Pro Weekly.
Read the news article featured on raceproweekly.com here
The governance model at Ridge and Valley Charter School (RVCS) is collaborative, circle-based modified consensus. Students, teachers, trustees, and families use the circle form for meetings, discussions, and decision-making in small and large groups and in committees.
The Circle, an Ancient Form of Meeting
The circle, or council, is an ancient form of meeting that has gathered human beings into respectful conversation for thousands of years and has served as the foundation for many cultures. What transforms a meeting into a circle is the willingness of people to shift from informal socializing or opinionated discussion into a receptive attitude of thoughtful speaking and deep listening. This practice is expanding widely into corporations, non-profit and NGO boards, education, healthcare, community activism, and religious communities as a highly applicable form of collaborative governance.
The Circle Way
Ridge and Valley Charter School has benefited from resources and guidance from mentors connected to the organization PeerSpirit, who train organizations in The Circle Way. This practice is a “body of work combining ancient lineage and modern social technology into a refined, lightly structured group process.” The two founders, Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, taught, applied and evolved this work in a worldwide 25-year writing and teaching cycle.
RVCS has refined its own circle practice through onsite trainings, study of the book “The Circle Way – A Leader in Every Chair,” by Baldwin and Linnea, and the informative PeerSpirit website (www.peerspirit.com). These tools have supported the evolution and development of school-wide practices of a foundational model of circle governance.
Circle-Based Collaboration Foster Relationships and Responsibility
The trustees and staff credit the responsibility and relationships fostered by circle-based collaboration to long-term success of the school. Both the children and adults seek to model the personal responsibility and mutual respect necessary to work in a circle of peers: to ask for what you need and to offer what you can, in support of the explicit shared intention of the group.
Ask students at Ridge and Valley Charter School what “circle” is and they will have a lot to share. They will say it is how they help to govern their classroom; that it is an opportunity for them to listen to new ideas while having a voice of their own. The Circle Way fosters a sense of confidence and empowerment in these students that they will carry on into adulthood.
Ridge and Valley Charter School graduate and budding filmmaker, Sadie Price-Elliot, had her film “Patience” accepted into the Student Film Showcase at this year’s Black Bear Film Festival in Milford, PA. Currently, a sophomore at Sussex County Technical School studying cinematography, Sadie wrote and directed the film when she was just a freshman. The festival spotlights independent filmmakers and their work with screenings held at a variety of venues throughout the town.
For more information about Sadie’s accomplishments check out the write up in the NJ Herald here!
Outdoor Overnight Expeditions: A Cornerstone of the Ridge and Valley Charter School Experience
Overnight and expeditionary experiences that are embedded into the curriculum, from kindergarten through graduation, offer some of the most important and exciting opportunities to Ridge and Valley Charter School (RVCS) students. Not only are these experiences a critical element in the development of self-confidence and a love of the natural world, but they also provide a rich, integrated way to learn and apply the skills and knowledge that the students are studying throughout the year.
Consider this quote from a study by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies on this topic:
…the benefits of outdoor skills education [include] improved interpersonal and intrapersonal skills; environmental awareness and stewardship ethics; physical, mental, and social health; and ability to learn and concentrate.”
This is only one of many formal research studies that document the numerous and compelling positive outcomes that are a result of expeditionary types of experiences like the ones that are integral to the RVCS curriculum.
Benefits of Outdoor Overnight Expeditions
Many students often report that these experiences are the most memorable and life changing of all the experiences they have during their time at RVCS. This is not a surprise or a coincidence. The following is a list of many of the benefits of expedition style experiences:
- Confidence, self-esteem, maturity, self-awareness and independence
- The ability to be part of a team, to lead and be led (setting up camp, making sure everyone gets to the top of the summit, delegating and sharing in tasks, etc.)
- An ability to communicate with others day-to-day and under pressure (ensuring everyone in the team knows what is going on)
- An understanding of the importance of humility, empathy, compassion, gratitude and pride
- Organizing, planning and preparing
- Problem solving, flexibility, adaptability and initiative
- Skills to assess and manage risk
- Financial management, budgeting and the value of money (fundraising/planning for an expedition fosters entrepreneurial skills and gives real and relevant business experience)
- Knowledge to travel safely and responsibly
- Learning from mistakes
- Reflection and debrief reinforce everything that is learned
- Participants can use the expedition to provide evidence of personal key skills on college and/or job applications
- The lessons learned, cultures explored and environments visited during an expedition meet and go beyond the standards found within multiple academic content areas
Taking the Classroom Outdoors
We are fortunate to be located in an incredibly rich area in terms of natural and recreational resources. We have easy access to the Appalachian Trail, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Paulinskill Trail, as well as numerous YMCA camps and outdoor centers. At RVCS, we continue to hone a developmentally appropriate, K-8 expeditionary scope and sequence of skills and experiences connected to the curriculum lenses for each academic year. Teachers, referred to as “Guides,” fold content and assessment into these experiences, building from one year to the next, so that by the time students graduate from RVCS they will have had a variety of overnight experiences and practiced a wide range of outdoor skills, all while engaged in content rich studies. Often times, due to the high engagement of the students, these experiences feel less like “school” or academic learning and more like fun adventures, thus on the surface and from an outside view their value may be overlooked.
Planning for an Outdoor Overnight Expedition
A great deal of planning occurs behind the scenes prior to each expedition to allow for the students to have a safe, developmentally challenging experience. Guides are trained in the skills necessary to handle a variety of emergency situations and help facilitate a group working through the above mentioned challenges. Additionally, during each trip, there is consistent contact between trip leaders and emergency contacts back at RVCS to continue to evaluate and adjust for safety and/or changing weather conditions. This planning and on-going assessment of the group is what allows for these safe, but transformative experiences.
The Academic, Physical & Emotional Value of Outdoor Overnight Expeditions
Not only do students engage in experiences that address common core content standards for traditional academic areas, but they also practice and are assessed on a number of mission related goals and standards, as outlined in the RVCS charter agreement with the state of NJ. We are committed to not only teach common core content standards, but also demonstrate that we are achieving our own mission specific goals. The expeditions/overnights are a perfect medium for students to engage in these critical learning experiences, from the planning stage all the way through the trip debrief upon return to the school.
While the expeditions have a quality of adventure and fun, they can also be physically and emotionally challenging. This is as critical a part of the experience as the physical skills and academic content. Students of all ages are sometimes anxious about being away from family or, often in the older grades, the physical challenge of backpacking or dealing with uncomfortable weather conditions. These are all normal feelings and in the end add to the incredible sense of accomplishment that comes with facing and overcoming a challenge. While students prepare for the experiences over the course of the year, it’s not easy to simulate all of the physical and emotional challenges that will actually occur on an expedition and this experience with a real-world challenge actually adds to the overall value of the experience. It is not uncommon for students to struggle somewhat, either individually or as group, during parts of the trip. It’s often that feeling of elation at overcoming an obstacle that solidifies the experience for the student. These types of breakthroughs are incredible moments that we hope all students have at some point during their RVCS journey.